A pair of long-established community theatre companies in Surrey and Langley have drafted plans to amalgamate to become an entirely new performing arts organization based in Langley.
The 80-seat Langley Playhouse would be home to the merged Langley Players and Surrey Little Theatre companies, following talks between the two over the past year. A joint committee is looking at the viability of the amalgamation, according to Surrey Little Theatre president Sara Lohnes.
“We are working to put together new bylaws and constitution,” Lohnes said Tuesday (Dec. 1). “We’ll be going back to the club members very soon for final approval and a formal amalgamation request.” A timeframe for that is probably January or February, she said.
“It’s exploratory, but we’re pretty confident and comfortable that this will happen,” Lohnes added. “Both clubs, we’ve talked to our membership, and both clubs are pretty positive about everything, we think it’s an amazing opportunity to join together.”
Lohnes called it a “really exciting” development for the volunteer-run theatre companies, as “both have struggled” in recent years.
“We were hesitant at first but the more we’ve spoken with our Langley Players team, we’re all on the same page and all feel the same way, which is great. This has something that emerged as idea about a year ago – feelers were put out there in the spring,” she added. “We were closed with nothing going on (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Being dark since January, this was a good time to explore this and get something done.”
In recent years, operators of Surrey Little Theatre have searched for a new home amid development pressures in their corner of Clayton, on 184th Street at Fraser Highway, on the future SkyTrain route.
The 76-seat theatre, a structure first opened in 1936 as Clayton United Church, was taken over by the theatre group in the 1960s. The city has plans to widen 184th Street, and the building would have to be moved for that to happen.
“We have struggled to find a new location within Surrey, and as with many community theatres we’ve struggled to find enough volunteers, too, and having people to run the shows,” Lohnes said. “Amalgamation will help that, absolutely, and with this we’re looking at doing some improvements to the Langley Playhouse that will help us put on even bigger and better shows.”
The Surrey Little Theatre building and land is owned by the non-profit society that runs it, Lohnes noted.
“It has heritage value, and we’re talking with heritage groups to see if anyone is interested in it, and it’s mentioned in the official community plan for Clayton Heights, that (the building) has to be taken into consideration by developers,” Lohnes said.
“We’re not at the stage yet where we’re formally looking to have the building on the market – that won’t happen until the spring, after the amalgamation gets formally approved. That will be the next step. We have to create new bylaws and constitution for the new club, and if and when that happens we’ll look at selling the building and land.”
She said the current assessed value of the land is close to $800,000.
“That will help financially, to sell that, and we’re looking at making some improvements to the Langley Playhouse, so that will be a big boost for that,” Lohnes said. “Plus we’ll looking into some grants, to improve the stage there, which will help us do different styles of plays from what we’re doing now.”
The new Langley-based theatre company would be “entirely new, with an entirely new name and a new elected board,” Lohnes underlined.
“For a new name, we have put that out to our membership for ideas, and there was something crazy, like 70-some suggestions, and then we’re going to put those back for people to vote on, for formal name approval from the government,” she said. “That process is ongoing as well.”
During 2018 financial plan discussions, the City of Surrey earmarked $500,000 for the relocation of Surrey Little Theatre in 2023, but Lohnes says the money is no longer on the table.
“It’s not in play – 100 per cent not in play, because we’re leaving Surrey,” she said.
“With the new theatre being located in Langley we would not qualify for that funding. But our goal is better, stronger theatre in the Valley and right now we see this as the best way to do that. We just couldn’t find the right space in Surrey and struggled to find enough volunteers, so this is how both clubs can stay strong as one unit.”
Dave Williams, president of Langley Players, said both companies are “overwhelmingly in favour” of the amalgamation, but cautioned it’s not yet a done deal.
“We’ve been going through the process working toward the amalgamation, taking both of our constitutions and bylaws and merging them, working through all that – it’s a big process,” he said. “The offshoot is that we’ll probably amalgamate, it’s certainly a probability, but until there’s a special resolution for it, it’s not yet done. We require 75 per cent vote in favour, which is a fairly high margin, but then that also really solidifies that’s what the membership wants.”
In the small world of community theatre, some people are members of both theatre companies.
“We share about a third of our membership, so we’re essentially the same people,” Williams said. “I’ve been a member of Surrey, and we’re sharing a lot of the same people, the volunteers. Our seasons were running basically at the same time, so we were competing with each other for that talent, the people to put on the shows we produce.”
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